India-Maldives ties: Testimony of reliability and resilience
India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ and Maldives’ ‘India First’ policies have worked in tandem to safeguard the well-being of the people of both countries
India’s relations with the Maldives are based on strong pillars of trust and goodwill; its seeds were sown when New Delhi rushed its paratroopers and naval warships in 1988 to Male to thwart coup attempt against the then Abdul Gayoom government by a group of Maldivians led by Abdullah Luthufi and assisted by 60 armed mercenaries from a Lankan Tamil separatist outfit. India was the first to assist Maldives during the 2004 tsunami as well as the water crisis in Male in December 2014.
These incidents established the advantage of India’s proximity and capacity to come to Maldives’ rescue in distress vis-à-vis any other country. Even as people and the Maldivian government were basking under the warmth of India’s generosity, New Delhi swiftly dispatched 30,000 doses of measles vaccine in January 2020 to prevent an outbreak in the Maldives and medical assistance and several doses of Covishield vaccine when the Covid-19 pandemic took the archipelagic state in its octopus grip in 2021.
India’s assistance to Maldives
In 1965, following its independence, New Delhi was among the first ones to extend diplomatic recognition and establish ties with the country. The Maldives has historically fallen within India’s sphere of influence due to its location at the intersection of the maritime routes passing across the Indian Ocean. Moreover, its strategic significance stems from its geographical proximity to India’s western coast, around70 nautical miles from the Minicoy islands.
New Delhi’s relation with Male is grounded in its soft power in the form of capacity-building assistance in healthcare and education; investment in infrastructure and connectivity projects, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster relief funding, besides military aid.
In fact, India has been the largest development partner of Maldives. Last year in October, during the visit of India’s Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra to Male, New Delhi handed over a US $100 million Line of Credit and a speed boat to the Maldivian authorities.
The fund was allocated to facilitate the numerous ongoing key infrastructure projects in the Maldives, while the speed boat was provided to ease transportation problems and increase the capacity of Maldives Correctional Service to undertake its responsibilities in serving the people of the country.
In August 2022, during his official visit to India, Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohammed Solih joined Prime Minister Narendra Modi in virtually “pouring of the first concrete” ceremony of the US$500 million Greater Male Connectivity Project being built under grant and concessional loan support from India.
This largest landmark infrastructure project in Maldives will enhance mobility between Male, Villingili, Gulhifalhu and Thilafushi islands, cut down logistics costs and drive people-centric economic growth. In Greater Male, India is also developing 4000 housing units under Buyer’s Credit financing of Exim Bank of India.
Built with an Indian grant of US$ 30 million, the National Centre for Police and Law Enforcement (NCPLE) in Male was inaugurated by EAM Jaishankar in March 2022 as India’s “largest grant project” in the country. In August that year, New Delhi also presented 24 utility vehicles in gift, while providing US$50 million Line of Credit for the modernisation of the Maldivian National Defence Force.
The period between 2019 and 2022 was marked by 30 High-Impact Community Development projects funded by India across Maldives with an investment worth US$13million. During former EAM Sushma Swaraj’s visit to the archipelagic state in March 2019, several agreements, including a Line of Credit of worth US$800 million and MoU for grant assistance for High Impact Community Development Projects (HICDPs) were signed.
In the course of then Indian EAM’s visit, India had also gifted 2500 LED street lights and 2 lakh LED bulbs to the Male City Council. She had also announced funds for the development of education and health related infrastructure projects in the archipelagic state.
On his first overseas trip after taking oath of office for his second term, Prime Minister Modi visited Maldives on a State Visit in June 2019. The Prime Minister also addressed a session of the newly constituted People’s Majlis.
During that visit, PM Modi announced restoration of the historical Hukuru Miskijy, one of the oldest mosques in the archipelago. It now stands repaired and renovated. India is also assisting the Maldives in building a fully-equipped and 22000-seat cricket stadium under the US$800 million credit line in Hulhumale.
Capacity building programme
In the course his 2019 state visit to the Maldives, Prime Minister Modi and Maldivian President Ibrahim Solih presided over signing of MoUs in the field of hydrography, health, establishment of passenger-cum-cargo service by sea, customs’ capacity building, exchange of white shipping information between the Indian Navy and the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF).
Prime Minister Modi and Maldivian President Solih had jointly inaugurated MNDF’s Composite Training Centre facility in Maafilafushi and Coastal Radar System by remote links. Following Prime Minister Modi’s June 2019 visit to the Maldives, the first meeting of the joint commission in hydrography was held in the archipelagic country on September 24-26, 2019.
As of July 2022, 14 batches comprising more than 400 Maldivian civil servants have been trained, while more than 140 Maldivian Customs Service officials have been trained in India. A cargo vessel service was launched in September 2020, connecting the ports of Tuticorin, Kochi, Kulhudhufushi and Male.
In 2019, New Delhi offered to assist Maldives in building a state-of-the-art cancer hospital in Laamu that will link its 150+ medical facilities spread over the islands. The initiative, under supervision of the Tata Memorial Centre will ensure development and training of human resource assets. This indicates that India’s health aid is not limited to creation of physical assets, but also long-term human resource training. Interestingly, 31% of the total doctors in Maldives are Indians.
Major projects executed by India in Maldives
Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital: The hospital was built with Indian Grant Assistance in 1995. Major renovation of IGMH was completed in June 2017 with a grant of INR52Cr.
Maldives Institute of Technical Education (now called the Maldives Polytechnic); MoU for setting up the institute was signed in March 1992. The institute was completed at a cost of INR 12 Cr and handed over to the Maldivian government in September 1996.
Maldives Faculty of Hospitality & Tourism Studies; foundation stone for the faculty was jointly laid by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and then Maldivian President Gayoom in September 2002. The faculty was officially handed over to the Maldivian government in February 2014.
National Centre for Police and Law Enforcement. The project was inaugurated by EAM S Jaishankar during his visit in March 2022.
India has always extended its support to the Maldives whenever it faced any crisis. In November 2022, India provided financial assistance of US $100 million to the Maldives. The assistance was in the form of budgetary support to tide over the difficult economic situation in the archipelago nation. In September 2020 also, India had provided financial assistance of US$250 million as budgetary support to the Maldivian government to mitigate the economic crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Last year in December, the RBI signed a currency swap agreement with the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) to enable it to make withdrawals in multiple tranches up to a maximum of US200 million from the RBI. This was done to meet the archipelagic state’s short-term foreign exchange liquidity requirements.
Overall, such support from India showcases the resilience and reliability of the India-Maldives relationship.
***Author is a PhD scholar from JNU’s School of International Studies; views expressed are her own